JEFFERSON CITY – Leaders from Missouri Baptist entities – Southwest Baptist University (SBU), Hannibal-LaGrange University (HLGU) and the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home (MBCH) – have had time to digest the June 26 United States Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage. They are unanimous in their disagreement with the court, but believe their legal standing is valid – for now – as they maintain the close, covenant relationship with the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and a commitment to biblical marriage between one man and one woman.
“The bottom line is that this doesn’t have a lot of effect on us right now,” SBU President Pat Taylor told the MBC Interagency Committee July 14.
“It’s where it could lead that is scary,” he said, noting Justices Antonin Scalia’s and John Roberts’s dissenting opinions which raised religious liberty concerns.
Taylor noted that every faculty and staff member affirms SBU’s Principles and Expectations each year as a part of their annual contract. That document says in part: “Scripture teaches that heterosexual union is the only acceptable expression of sexuality and must be reserved for marriage and insists on sexual abstinence for those who are unmarried.” Further, “all members of the University family should abstain from unbiblical sexual practices and from behavior which may lead to a violation of God’s standards on sexual activities.”
Anthony Allen, president of HLGU, agreed with Taylor that for now, HLGU’s in a defensible position.
“We’ve worked hard to update our policies and handbooks to be very, very clear,” Allen said. “We define marriage as one man, one woman in a committed heterosexual relationship.”
He noted that biblical marriage is defined and affirmed in the school’s faith statement, its faculty and administrative handbooks and in the Baptist Faith and Message (2000), which all faculty sign. HLGU requires discipline and possible expulsion for any student’s sexual activity outside of biblical marriage, including heterosexual activity.
“I don’t see anything looming on the immediate horizon, but I think there will be increased pressure in the future after this Supreme Court ruling, but I’m not sure exactly from where it will come,” Allen said.
Neither HLGU nor SBU accept any federal money directly, money that might be withheld because of the institution’s discriminatory policies. However, students from both schools often do accept federal grants and loans. HLGU students receive $2.7 million in federal aid annually.
“That in particular causes me concern, but in the same breath, I see it as an incredible opportunity to continue to be faithful to the things we’ve always been faithful to. We will be clear about who we are, and if the day comes when we have to take a stand, we will be willing to do that.”
He acknowledges that the potential loss of federal aid to students would be a “major business model shift” and “a blow to the institution.” He said the long-term solution is to increase the school’s endowment to offset student’s need to accept federal dollars.
“That may come in the future; it may not,” Allen said. “But, I think we’re naïve if we don’t have a plan.”
Russell Martin, the president of the third MBC entity, the Children’s Home, said “there are crazy days ahead.” He noted that MBCH affirms “strong biblical values” for its staff and said MBCH would not knowingly hire a practicing homosexual and would immediately dismiss any employee acting outside those guidelines. MBCH also will not knowingly place a child in a home with a same-sex couple.
“It’s very clear and very explicit in our policies and handbooks and we can defend it,” Martin said. “The issue is, how long will the courts accept that defense?”
MBCH receives no federal funding, but they do receive a significant portion of their income from state tax credits sold to donors.
“In a meeting last week with our fundraising staff, one of them told me he was being asked by donors that with the Supreme Court ruling would [MBCH] even be around? My answer is that we are going to be here. We’re not going away. How we do ministry, our sources of income may change, and we may be smaller, but we’re not going away. MBCH will survive. God ordained this ministry 129 years ago, and He is not going to let it go.”